Cancer Screening and Detection Innovation: What It Could Mean for Patients
Since the signing of the National Cancer Act in 1971, scientific and medical progress has resulted in extraordinary advancements in our ability to treat cancer. This is made clear by the 16.9 million cancer survivors alive today in the United States. By 2030, that number is expected to grow to 22.2 million (National Cancer Institute, 2020). However, equally as important as treatment advances is our ability to detect cancer at the earliest stages.
The Importance of Cancer Detection at Early Stages
Data show that when some cancers are identified at the earliest stages, the chance of surviving for at least five years is higher. In other words, the earlier cancer is detected—at stage I, when the cancer is small and only in one area versus stage IV, when cancer has metastasized—the more likely it is that the patient will survive for a longer period of time.
How is Cancer Currently Detected?
Some types of cancer have available screening tests. These tests include:
- Colonoscopy for colorectal cancer
- Pap smear for cervical cancer
- Mammography for breast cancer
- Spiral computed tomography (CT) scan for those who are at a high risk of developing lung cancer
- Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test for prostate cancer
However, most other types of cancer do not currently have screening tests available. This means it can be more difficult to detect those types of cancer until a person shows symptoms. Oftentimes, this means that the cancer is caught at a later stage. Approximately 7 out of every 10 cancer deaths are attributed to cancers that lack early detection screenings (American Cancer Society, 2020).
What is Next in Cancer Detection?
Scientific and technological breakthroughs are proving promising in terms of the ability to detect more types of cancer in new ways. In addition to the traditional screening tests listed above, new types of tests are emerging. One new and emerging screening test uses a person’s blood sample to identify many different kinds of cancer. This new way to screen for many different types of cancer all at once could help detect cancer at earlier stages.
How Will People Access New, Innovative Screening Methods?
The creation of new cancer screening methods is the first step. People must be able to access, afford, and benefit from them. These methods are so new that there must be policy solutions to ensure that they are available to all people. An example related to the blood sample test described above, the Multi-Cancer Early Detection Screening Coverage Act, was recently introduced in the U.S. Congress. CSC is supportive of this bill, and other bills, which would modernize Medicare (the government health insurance program for people who are 65 or older and certain younger people with disabilities) to allow for coverage of new screening tests once they are approved by the FDA. This would create a new coverage pathway in Medicare, giving beneficiaries access to new, breakthrough screening technologies that detect cancer at earlier stages.
We at the Cancer Support Community are supportive of ensuring access to the most promising technologies. We will also continue our advocacy to ensure that patients can access and afford resources and services across the care continuum, including prevention, screening and detection, treatment, and survivorship.
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American Cancer Society. (2020). Cancer facts and figures 2020. Atlanta: Author.
National Cancer Institute. (2020). Cancer statistics. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/understanding/statistics.